Elephant Nature Park


Left to right and top to bottom: One of the elephants munching on some greens, some shady spots and sprinklers for the elephants to play in, me -kissing my beautiful Kabu, me with Lek and her husband, Darren who run the park, Lek being hugged by one of her babies, Sri Prea, (Navann’s mum) flirting with me in the meadow one afternoon, me feeding Kabu while she was nursing a foot infection due to an injury she suffered in the logging industry, and finally, me getting ready to shovel truckloads full of elephant poo. (Trust me, it was a lot more fun than it sounds!)

Question: How can you possibly communicate an utterly life-changing experience in a short web article?
Answer: You can’t. I’ve tried for months to write something that could communicate how profoundly my life was changed by the week I spent volunteering at Elephant Nature Park animal rescue, and I finally realized it’s impossible. All I can do is give you a glimpse of a sliver of the power of that place. So…that’s what I’m going to do.

If it will help, I can tell you that if you were to ask me the absolute best thing I’ve ever done in my life, I’d have to say it was traveling to the jungles of northern Thailand by myself — to volunteer at Elephant Nature Park for a week. It was, simply put, the most beautiful experience I’ve ever had in my life and it fed my soul to a breadth and depth that I didn’t know was possible.

Being a part of this special place, even for just a week, was so profound that it’s taken me months to be able to put my feelings into words. In fact, I haven’t written a single article since my visit there.  I was too intimidated to try to communicate the “perfectness” of that hauntingly beautiful, other-worldly place.  At the same time, I couldn’t make myself write about anywhere else until I had paid tribute to it.

Elephant Nature Park, is a true rescue, not just some tourist factory that markets itself as a sanctuary while still chaining up the animals and offering elephant rides. ENP is a tangible “heaven on earth” for rescue elephants, more than 72 of them, in fact. Not only that — they also house more than 530 rescue dogs and 80 water buffalo. In addition, they have a separate rescue in the mountains for the over 200 wild boar that would have been killed if not for the sanctuary’s intervention. The main park, however, is where the elephants and water buffalo roam freely through the grounds together with about twenty of the more senior, rescue dogs gleefully chasing each other through the grass. It is a magnificent sight to see all of these different animals (and people) nosing up to each other and spending their days lounging in the sun.

This “Garden of Eden” is the brainchild of a remarkable woman named Lek Chailert. A five foot tall, 95-pound powerhouse of a woman, she started fighting for the rights of working elephants years ago, and the culmination of her vision is Elephant Nature Park– a world-renown conservation project and preserve. When I call her “remarkable” I mean it quite literally. While I was there, I learned she had broken her hip months earlier but had absolutely refused to take time off to treat her injury. There was no way she was going to stop feeding, coaxing and tending to her elephants one-on-one, due to her deep and abiding belief that bonding with these beautiful animals is the best way to gift them with a new life, helping them to trust not only their environment, but humans again — after all the gross abuses they suffered in their lives before arriving at ENP. She was still in great pain and walking with a cane while I was there, but every day she still went out to “play” with her elephants, and every single one of them adores her. When they see her, they come running.

Lek makes sure that Elephant Nature Park has everything these magnificent animals need in order to recover and thrive. The first thing that happens when a new elephant arrives is that they get their own, private caregiver called a mahout, whose entire job is to follow his elephant around 24 hours a day, and simply be his buddy. But that’s only the beginning. The park itself is designed to cater to the elephant’s every need and desire. There are sprawling grasslands, concrete swimming pools, big, cooling mud baths, and many long, winding foot paths to walk. (Did you know that elephants will walk along a dirt path when there is one available in order to preserve the grasslands of their environment? Well, they do.)

The entire preserve is covered with bright green meadows, peppered with lush trees and dotted with watering holes, tire swings, and shady spots. There’s even a crystal clear river where the elephants bathe with the help of the volunteers. It is a breathtakingly beautiful home for these rescued elephants where they are given plenty of fresh food, medical care and best of all…freedom. Freedom they’ve never before experienced. These elephants have been exposed to untold horrors, but whatever their age or circumstance, here they’ll get to live out the rest of their days in freedom and security.
Elephants are not solitary creatures. When left alone in the wild, they live with their families their entire lives. But since this is a rescue, virtually every elephant here has been ripped from their family and forced into hard labor. One of the most important things that happens when these elephants arrive, is that they are encouraged to form new families with the other rescues, families from whom they will never be separated from again. They will roam around the grounds of this sanctuary together in peace — for the rest of their lives.

Here, the air is clear and the ground is soft. The food is plentiful: always clean, ripe and fresh. Truckload after truckload of pumpkins, melons, bananas and cucumbers are delivered every day. The staff at ENP even makes rice balls each day for the elephants who have lost their teeth as a result of either torture or neglect. The kitchen keeps the menu constantly changing so the animals don’t get bored. (Can you believe that?)

This park is a place where every animal feels peace, sometimes for the very first time in their lives. Here, they are safe and loved — respected and valued. When you volunteer here, you can’t believe the amount of love you feel pouring out of you. Just standing next to an elephant is pure joy. When you get really close to one, they always look you in the eye. You see a depth of understanding there — a recognition. They acknowledge that you’re sharing their space with them and they take the time to really see you, to feel who you are. It’s not like looking into the eyes of any other animal — they are truly with you while you are there, and they are in no hurry to leave you. If you pay attention to them in those moments, you’ll learn how beautiful it is to just be with someone…sharing space together.

Standing there, eye to eye with one of these huge, calm, compassionate creatures makes you feel connected not only to yourself and to them, but to God. It gives you a sense of your place in the world. It’s simply impossible to be unmoved by these beautiful animals — and the woman who gave them a chance to simply “be.” Once you’ve actually seen an elephant just be an elephant, you never want them to do anything else. The idea of their being forced to perform tricks or give rides…or even the thought of their being torn away from their families to make someone a few bucks makes you feel sick inside.

After you have shared even one genuine moment with an elephant, you will forever be on their side — praying for their happiness and grateful just to have been a witness to their easy, quiet strength. And you will be forever grateful for the work that Elephant Nature Park is doing. So…

As it turns out, heaven really IS a place on earth, at least for elephants. And it’s nestled among the northern mountains of Thailand, just about an hour and a half from Chiang Mai. 
 I thank God for the opportunity to have witnessed their lives there, even for just a moment. (If you ever want to shake up your life — or just feel like you’ve visited the Garden of Eden for a week or so, do yourself a favor and volunteer at Elephant Nature Park. You’ll never look at the world the same way again. I guarantee it.)

To make a donation or volunteer at Elephant Nature Park, click on their link: ‪https://www.elephantnaturepark.org‬

Goodbye, India



For a year now, I’ve been living in a culture completely different from any I have ever experienced, and it has rattled me to my core. The past year has shown me how brutal and unfair life can be…but it has also shown me great beauty.  It is true that there is a casual disregard for suffering in India which is heartbreaking to witness. But there is also a calm acceptance of one’s situation at any given moment which in itself brings a deep sense of peace.

India is a remarkable country filled to the brim with contradictions. Yes, it is challenging. India is chaos, utterly and completely. Nothing about this country is logical — It is loud, crowded and difficult. But there is also a haunting, timeless beauty here, especially in the people who are, almost without exception, curious, open-hearted and completely accepting.

One thing I ams certain of…I am the better for having lived the adventure of her.

I will write more articles on my time here, but as my plane leaves in just a few hours, I wanted to say goodbye properly.   So…Here are a few of my favorite memories from our year in Asia.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Elephants: What You Don’t Know, Can Hurt Them


(The first photo is an elephant family in the wild. The second: a parade of working riding elephants. The third is Kabu, my favorite girl at Elephant Nature Park Rescue. Note her front left leg: injured as a baby, born into a lifetime of work in the logging industry.)

I love elephants. Beautiful examples of living in the moment, elephants are utterly at ease in their own skin. The longer you watch them, the more aware you are that beauty and gracefulness have nothing to do with size. (Made me feel so silly for being self-conscious about the 15 pounds I keep wanting to lose.) Perfectly content with who they are, they don’t let anything interfere with that sense of peace. They amble around with that slow, casual walk of theirs, completely unhurried, knowing that life is about each moment of the journey…not the destination.

Everyone knows that elephants are also capable of colossal strength, but few people notice that they almost never use that strength to harm others. That alone is a simple, almost perfect life-lesson in coexistence and compassion. Every one of us could use a little more of that.

A year ago when my husband and I moved to India, I couldn’t wait to see these glorious creatures up close. To get to know these Gentle Giants who are so much a part of Asian Culture. They completely fascinated & inspired me. Turns out I’m not alone.  In fact, millions of people around the world admire and adore these animals and will pay just to be near them. As a result, elephant attractions are big business here in Asia, and just like any business, they are driven by profit. As a result, no one seems to care what happens to elephants once they are forced into the trade. When it comes to business…Money drives the day.

These animals deserve to have someone speak for them and they deserve to have people listen. What I’ve learned about the life of a “working elephant” isn’t pretty–in fact, it will break your heart, but I wouldn’t ask you to read this if there weren’t something you could actually do to make things better…and there is. Just give me the next 5 minutes of your time and then decide for yourself. We might not be able to change the world, but we can certainly make a difference to them…and a big difference at that.

I beg you to read this article even if you are as tender-hearted as I am. I will soft-pedal the violence so that it isn’t too graphic. I will attempt to give you the most objective, clear-headed version of the situation possible. PLEASE have the strength to read it. Only by knowing what is happening and by spreading the word can anything begin to change for these wise, loving creatures. Terrible things can happen in the shadows. The only way to fight the darkness is in the sunlight.

First, Some Context…
An elephant’s life span is about 80-90 years of age, and since the herds are matriarchal, a female elephant’s life will revolve around her family until the day she dies. A typical elephant family usually consists of a mother, her sisters, daughters and their babies (calves). Much like human matriarchs, the females of the family will protect the young, nurse the injured, and grieve over the deathbeds of those they love and lose along the way.

In an elephant herd, each mother has a nanny (also sometimes called a midwife) who is usually a sister or the best friend of the mother’s. The bond between a mother and her nanny is lifelong. It is a very intimate and deep connection. They choose each other months before the baby is born, and the nanny is the one who makes all the preparations for the birth: gathering bedding, clearing an area for delivery and in general, loving and caring for the mother during labor. She is there at the moment of birth, pulling the baby underneath her own legs as soon as he drops, so that the mother doesn’t accidentally harm him in the throes of labor. She is also the one who gently nudges and pushes the baby onto his feet as soon as possible so that his lungs will inflate fully, he will recover quickly and he will be less vulnerable to predators.

From the moment of the baby’s birth, the nanny and mother raise him as a team. Whenever they walk, they keep the baby in between them, protecting him from unseen predators. They almost never let the calf out of their sight…not for years. If a baby trumpets or shows any alarm, they run to his rescue immediately. When there is danger, they always protect the baby — even at the risk of their own lives. Their devotion never wavers; it’s what every little kid would wish for.

For protection and comfort, the calf spends the first few months of his life constantly walking beneath the bodies of the mother and nanny as they wander along…back and forth, back and forth. As a result, all of his baby hair (the cute, wiry hair on his head and back) rubs off, leaving him looking almost polished and new. It’s adorable. (I’ve seen beggars in Asian markets asking people if they want to buy a bag of food for their “pet” baby elephant. These baby elephants usually have hair, which means that the baby was stolen from his family when he was only weeks or months old…before his baby hair had a chance to rub off from contact with his mother.)

If left in the herd, each calf is protected, nurtured and socialized as a part of the family for years. They will play, test their boundaries and learn how to interact with others. Whether boy or girl, each of them grows and develops under the watchful supervision of mother and nanny. There is only one major difference between the boys and the girls. During puberty, at around 12-15 years of age, the males (bulls) will become more aggressive to the other members of the herd. When they start pushing, bullying and becoming a threat, these young males will be pushed out of the herd by their own nanny in order to keep everyone safe. At this point, the bulls, now considered young adults, will leave, either finding a group of other bulls and living a more nomadic life with them or choosing a more solitary life on their own.

The females remain behind, their lives continuing to revolve around family. They are the caregivers, the nurturers. They will devote their lives to the herd until the day they die…bonded together over their commitment to the family and each other. But their most powerful connection is always to the babies.

Back To Business…
As I said earlier, elephants are big business. They are used for industries like logging, tourist attractions, elephant rides, even circuses. Female elephants are preferred by the trainers because they can be force-bred over and over again for decades while continuing to work non-stop (thus supplying even more elephants to the trainers over time). Since the elephants die as a result of the stress, loneliness and backbreaking work they are forced to do, these industries need a constant supply of new elephants in order to stay in business — for that they turn to the hunters and trainers.

How Do You Choose?
Which elephants are the smallest, the most naive and the easiest to manipulate and therefore “train?”  The babies, of course. But, how do you “catch” a baby elephant when his mother and nanny are so protective of him?  Sadly, it’s usually by killing his family.

It stands to reason. If the mother and nanny will fight to the death to protect the baby, cut to the chase and eliminate the fight altogether. There are several ways the hunters can kill the baby’s mother and nanny. They can shoot them outright. They can even dig a huge hole and then drive the elephants toward it until they fall in, then pull the baby out, leaving his guardians to die of starvation in the pit. Sometimes, however, with this method the baby will become fatally injured in the fall, so quite often they do something even more horrible. They create an enormous mud pit — with mud so thick it’s like slow-drying concrete. Then they can drive the elephants into it, and pull the baby out afterwards, leaving the mother and nanny entombed in mud to die of thirst days later — the entire time, screaming for their baby.

This is every bit as hard on the babies as you can imagine. Elephants do indeed have long memories and a deep capacity for love. They develop strong, intimate bonds, often creating lifelong friendships based on deep emotional connection. They love…deeply. As a result, the grief of being ripped away from their mothers under such terrifying circumstances is unimaginable. That trauma will haunt an elephant until the day he dies.

The Crush…
What happens to the babies next? The hunters need to break them in order to make them “trainable.” Please note, this is NOT like breaking a horse. Every “trick” they want the elephants to perform is against their nature, so they must completely destroy the babies’ will to live in order to get them to submit. They do this through a technique they call “the Crush.”

Virtually every elephant being used for logging, elephant rides, circuses, temple ceremonies and tourist attractions has gone through this process, which is all the more heartbreaking when you remember that most of the elephants put through this are babies that have just lost their mothers, their families and everyone they’ve ever loved. They are terrified and confused, feeling utterly alone — literally for the first time in their lives.

During the Crush, these young elephants are chained — tied down from 12-15 different directions in such a way that they can’t move more than an inch or two. For the next three to seven days, they will not sit; they will not lie down. They will even be unable to take one small step from side to side. They are quite literally “trapped” for the duration of this process. Other techniques used during the Crush are starvation, thirst and sleep deprivation, so the calf will not be allowed one bite of food, one sip of water or any sleep at all for days…not until the Crush is over.

What happens to the elephant during the Crush? The men will torture these babies non-stop in order to crush their spirit. (No doubt, that is where they get the name for this process.) You see, once the elephants have lost their will to live, they will accept anything that happens to them later. Since the hunters and trainers prefer female elephants to males, I’ll use a female as my example here.

So it begins…
For the next three to seven days, these men will systematically torture the terrified baby relentlessly. They will beat her, hack at her with machetes and throw rocks at her. They will burn her and gouge holes into the soft skin under her neck and behind her ears. They will yell…and hit…and punish, day and night, for the next three to seven days. They will bang pots behind her head to keep her awake and heighten the stress. Remember, for the duration of this process she is tied down so tightly that she is completely unable to move. She will not be allowed to lie down, to sit or even to sway back and forth to dissipate the stress. The chains tied around her ankles will rip the flesh off of her legs…all the way down to the muscle. There will not be one moment that this poor animal won’t be tortured and terrified until this process is completed.

The torture itself is the goal, you see. Once they kill the baby’s will to live, they can make her accept anything the trainer will do to her later. (It’s important to note that some babies don’t survive this process.)

Elephant Suicide…
Many elephants will actually commit suicide during the Crush — if given the chance. I had no idea that could even happen with an animal, but it’s absolutely true. You see, elephants have big brains. They’re smart so they have the ability to comprehend the hopelessness of their situation even at a young age. As a result, they can’t be left alone for even a moment and their trunks must be tied away from their bodies — or they will escape the only way left to them: either by stepping on their own trunks until they suffocate or biting through their trunks until they bleed to death. These babies will actually see suicide as their only way out…and they will take it.

If denied that escape, they will simply give up the will to live and then be ready for the next stage of training. You’ve heard that old adage, “An elephant never forgets.” Well…that’s actually true. Elephants have incredibly long memories. So, they will remember this torture for the rest of their lives and it will haunt them — forever.

The worst part of this whole thing is that the Crush is only the beginning of their new normal. Next comes the “training” and the back-breaking abuse. This abuse will continue for the rest of their lives.  If they’re lucky, they’ll die soon. If not, the abuse and the loneliness could go on for another 80-90 years.

If Only…
If people stopped paying money to go to carnivals or circuses to see elephants dance on their hind legs, twirl hula hoops, or spin around on one foot…If people stopped paying money for elephant rides or elephant paintings when they come to Asia…If people contributed their time or their money to a real elephant rescue like the one where I just volunteered…If people stopped for just a moment to think about our responsibility to the world we live in…If any or all of these things happened, elephants might just stand a chance. They might remember how to be elephants again. They might look on human beings with love and gratitude, instead of abject fear. Because in addition to all their other qualities, elephants are incredibly forgiving…Their compassion runs as deep as their memory.

What You Can Do…
None of that can happen without your help, and you can help — with very little effort actually. Just share this article everywhere you can. Tell your friends not to spend money for elephant rides when they vacation in Asia. (Suggest that they take a day to volunteer at a legitimate elephant rescue instead — that’s so much more fun anyway.)  Since money is what their abusers care about, that is where the battle is won. Sign a petition…Donate money to legitimate elephant rescues…Volunteer. There are so many ways we can make a difference.

And remember…Sometimes the stories we want to hear the least, are the ones we need to hear the most.  Let’s make people listen.

In my next article I’m going to introduce you to a brave woman in Thailand who has spent her life rescuing and defending Asian elephants. We’ll go inside the sanctuary she’s created. In the meantime, you can learn more about her work and consider a donation through their home page:  https://www.elephantnaturepark.org/

Dubai: Land of Wild Imagination

I’ll be honest…I really didn’t think I would like Dubai. I had conjured up images in my mind — of women forced into wearing hijabs, afraid of making eye contact…and me, getting myself thrown in prison for being a loud-mouthed American female.

Dubai is nothing like I expected. It is fun here…there’s no other word for it. Women run around town in mini-skirts, shorts, designer dresses and high heels. Gastronomy and shopping here are Olympic sports. What’s more, the architecture and man-made islands here are simply unbelievable.  (As a Fine Arts professor, I’ve used several of the architectural achievements here in my classes for years as examples of the kind of breathtaking architecture and construction that are possible given enough imagination, attention to detail and unlimited funds.)

My husband, Leon and I visited Dubai twice in two weeks: the first time was for a client meeting that Leon had to negotiate — and the second, a short vacation with my close friend Leesy and her two kids (our godchildren).

Our first visit was nothing short of perfect. We arrived on Sunday at around noon, and Leon went to a prep session for his client meeting the next day, while the hotel driver took me to the Dubai Mall to spend the afternoon. I wandered around the huge mall for a bit and then met up with Indu, one of my friends from Kalari Rasayana. It was so lovely to see her in her own element, looking so happy and beautiful. We sat for a long while at Angelina’s Cafe where we chatted over perfect French croissants and cappuccinos. Then she left to do some shopping for her new granddaughter while I went to the 10,000,000 gallon aquarium for a “behind the scenes” tour.

After his meeting ended, Leon joined me in the mall, and we ambled over to the 7pm “Dancing Fountains” show in front of the Burj Kalifa. The show was beautiful and fun: all sexy Arabian music and dancing waters. Then we made the loooooong walk around the fountains to the Armani Hotel (located inside the Burj) to have dinner at their Italian restaurant there called “Ristorante.” While sitting in comfy, overstuffed chairs on the terrace there, we watched the fountain show once more, this time from three floors above with the Burj itself rising 160 stories up…behind my chair. It was one of those “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this is happening” moments that you never forget.

As if that weren’t perfect enough, the hostess of the restaurant suggested that we go to the Atmosphere Lounge to enjoy the view and have a couple of signature cocktails. She got us reserved seating and ushered us to the private elevator that leads to the highest restaurant in the world (on the 124th floor of the Burj Kalifa). They gave us a table with an incredible view…the city lights laid out like a flying carpet at our feet. It was the most easy, laid back, beautiful night we’ve had in years. If any of you have the chance to go to Dubai, do yourselves a favor and copy this night exactly. It is heaven…absolute perfection.

The next day, Leon had his big meeting so we split up again, each to do our own thing. I got to meet my friend, Jan’s beautiful Italian wife, Rosenda, for lunch. (I can’t believe that after spending a month in a hospital in a remote section of India, I flew to Dubai within two days of my discharge, where I got to hang out with TWO different new friends that I had met through that same hospital. I mean…what are the odds?!?!?!)

Rosenda and I hit it off immediately. She is not only gorgeous, but smart, interesting, extremely loving and almost zen-like in her quiet calm. We had the best “Girl Day” ever: first a fun lunch at the only health food restaurant in Dubai, then window shopping for jewelry at the souq — where I found a gorgeous sapphire and diamond pendant that we both fell in love with. After admiring it a bit, the two of us went cruising over to the Gallery Quarter to wander through gallery after gallery. Before we knew it, the day was over. What a beautiful “first date” with a new gal-pal.

The second time we visited Dubai was only two weeks later — when we went back for a long weekend with my close friend, Leesy, and her two children, Zach and Maddie (our godchildren) while they had a two-day layover after visiting us in India. We stayed in the Atlantis on Palm Island as the kids really wanted to spend a full day at the water park. It was a total zoo there — completely packed with people from all over the world. Leon and I tend to favor small boutique hotels that are quiet, elegant and far less crowded, but the Atlantis was all about service, and the kids loved it, so all in all, it was great fun.

The first thing we did when we arrived was eat a burger — the first beef I’d had in seven months (since moving to India) and every bite was heaven! Then…all five of us piled into a touring jeep and went on a Desert Safari.

Let me just say that a desert safari is pretty much the perfect way to spend an entire evening having fun with your best friends, and that’s exactly what we did. Leesy, Zach and Maddie are our family, and we all squealed and giggled our way through the evening together. We played and laughed the entire night — doing what I believe might just be the perfect adventure tour of Dubai. The safari started with something called “dune bashing.”  That’s where they drive the jeeps kamikaze-style…right at these 50-foot high sand dunes and then climb over the top. While you’re at the top, the car starts to tip over the edge, and you can’t see anything on the other side. It feels like you are about to fall off a cliff. (The jeeps, thankfully, have roll cages, but I think that was more disturbing to me than comforting!) There is sliding and slipping and sailing through the air…and a lot of screaming (at least from all of us!)

Then we went to the camel farm to look at the baby camels with their moms. That was pretty adorable. After a short break there, we piled back into the jeeps and headed over to the private camp (complete with actual plumbing in the middle of a desert). My first stop was the camel rides. I ran, really ran, (like a little kid) to be the first in line. That was one Bucket List item checked off — first thing!

Once we had settled into the tiny, private city, Leon and our godson, Zach, went sand-boarding. Both did very well. Leesy and Maddie signed up to have their hands painted with beautiful designs in henna while I made friends with a falcon under the watchful eye of his handler. After a bit of wandering around from shop to shop, we all sat down for a beautiful dinner under the stars. At around 8:30, the live stage show began, and we capped off our evening complete with a whirling dervish, a fire-eater and a belly dancer…A marathon of fun!


The Burj Al Arab is the only seven star hotel on the planet. Frankly, I never thought I’d even see it in person, but my friend Indu and her husband, Kishore are members there so they invited us to dinner at Scape, the hotel’s beautiful poolside restaurant. All I can say is that the entire experience was once in a lifetime, and the company was the best part…by far.  Leon and I had the most wonderful time. After a gorgeous dinner on the outdoor terrace, the manager took us on a tour of the infinity pool area, the private luxury cabanas and the lounge area (complete with sand they import from Saudi Arabia because it’s heavier and won’t blow into the pool in the wind!)

After a good look around (and quite a few vacation photos taken by the manager) we took the gold-plated elevators up to the “Gold on 27” cigar bar to get a quick look before settling into the retro “Sky Bar” to have one last nightcap with our friends before saying goodbye. Dinner and drinks in a seven star hotel…Wow. Talk about a fairy tale night!

The most wonderful thing we did on that visit though was to go snorkeling in the huge aquarium at the Atlantis, stuffed to the gills (pun intended) with 65,000 tropical fish, 22 sharks and four different species of sting rays. Swimming with zebra sharks, grey reef sharks, bowmouth sharks, and giant guitar sharks simply blew my mind.

At one point, I felt something graze my hair and looked to my left where a three foot zebra shark was looking me right in the eye…ten inches from my face. I laughed so hard I had to bob up to the surface to catch my breath. Then the guide did the same thing. He and I laughed for so long that Leon popped up to ask if something had gone wrong. Nope…just laughing at the three foot zebra shark making eyes at me in the man-made lagoon…in a resort…in Dubai…on the coast of the Persian Gulf.

You just can’t comprehend any of it, so you laugh at the overwhelming disbelief of your life in that moment. And to see all of these gorgeous varieties of stingrays swimming next to and just beneath you as well…wow. Eagle rays, cow nose rays, marbled rays and cow tail rays just lazily floating past you as you lie weightless in the water. What a charmed experience.

On our way to the airport, Leon told me we were stopping at the jewelry shop where Rosenda and I had found the beautiful sapphire necklace that she and I had fallen in love with. Long story short, he bought it for me. Now, whenever I look at that beautiful, artisan pendant around my neck, I will be reminded not only of him, but also of my beautiful friend, Rosenda who helped me pick it out, her husband Jan, my friend Indu, my “sister” Leesy, our godchildren and the magic of the amazing city of Dubai. So many memories from one tiny jewel. My own personal treasure from the land of the sheikhs.

Day 28 – Thank You, Kalari Rasayana


These photos were taken during my goodbye ceremony. The staff “gifts” you a ride around the lake to say goodbye to all the memories you have of Kalari Rasayana. (The women behind me in the dugout punt were there to hold umbrellas over me if I got too warm. Talk about thinking of everything!)  The second photo is me with some of the Ayurvedic staff. My sweet therapist, Greeshma is standing on my left — I told you she was tiny!

March 2, (DAY 28)

To the beautiful, loving staff here at Kalari Rasayana,

Today is my last day; I leave tomorrow morning at 7am. I felt it was important to thank you properly for your kindness and compassion during what was a very stressful treatment process for me.

From the moment I stepped out of the car on arrival, each of you took it upon yourselves to treat me like family: some cherished relative to be pampered and cared for with all your hearts. I will treasure my time here, not simply because I learned lessons about how to safeguard my health, but because I got to experience time and again just how much love and kindness India instills in her people.

This place feels like coming home — to your own body, mind and spirit. It is hard work, made even more challenging because you must relax into the work and not force it. Helping on that front are the curious herons always poking around at our feet and the melodic prayers chanted from the Hindu temple next door every day.

Gazing out onto that beautiful lake surrounded by tens of thousands of coconut trees and watching the color of the sky change every morning from indigo to pink, then to light blue…Watching it change in the evening from light blue to orange and back to indigo again is not just peaceful, but meditative as well. And seeing the fisherman every morning and every night, toss their nets into the water and gently pull them back up into their dugout canoe is a zen experience in and of itself.

I thank you for the memories of this place — and of this time with these people.

Yours sincerely,

(Thank you to all of the people who make this place run so beautifully.  Front office staff: Mani, Reshma, Aathira, Mukesh; Dining room staff: Ashok, Jibin, Pradeep, Revathy, Giopika, Deepika, Reshma; Housekeeping: Xavier, Rekha, Manjush, Aswathy, Nandhu, Sujith, Anandhu, rejitha, Sarita, Anitha, Joemon, Sandeep; Ayurveda Department: Dr. Sreelal, Dr. Poornima, Dr. Nidhish, Dr. Thushara, Dr. Sandra, Dr. Sreeraj, Greeshma, Reshma, Anirudhan, Shaji, Shinu, Rasheena, Aji, Niju, Vishnu, Niya, Jithin, Aswani, Rajitha, Sruthi, Krishna, Ratheesh, Joseph, Jinil, Aparna, Meenu, Anju, Sreekala, Archana, Kavya, Radhika, Rajelekshmi, Prijimol.)

Ayurvedic Daily Journal – Day 27


(On the left, a photo of me with Dr. Sreelal Sankar. On the right, my beautiful therapists: Greeshma and Reshma.)

March 1 (Day 27)
I may not be cured, but I sure have gotten a lot of information that will serve me for the rest of my life. I know which foods will work with my body and which ones won’t. I know that for me at least, meditation and pranayama are non-negotiable. I know that by the time I hit 60 and the arthritis kicks in, my back is going to require some sort of treatment. Most importantly, I’ve learned that “control” is out of my control. (Now…if I can just remember it all.)

My sweet therapists, Greeshma and Reshma, have been a quiet blessing every day. Here at Kalari Rasayana, they usually switch therapists out from day to day, or at least from week to week, but for me they kept these two smiling girls pretty much the entire time I was here. (I’m guessing they thought that my health situation was complicated enough that I might need some extra support.)

I will always remember Greeshma’s beautiful smile and Reshma’s shy looks as she’d see me each morning. These two have made all the difference in getting through these sometimes scary treatments…no doubt about it.

I have a confession to make. Dr. Sankar’s full name is Dr. Sreelal Sankar and he actually goes by Dr. Sreelal.

In parts of India, the last name of the man is usually the first name of his father. The boy, once he becomes an adult, is then referred by his first name as a last name, for example: Dr. Sreelal for short. I didn’t learn this until about a third of the way through my time here, so for consistency sake, I just kept referring to him as Dr. Sankar in my articles. But for this, my last reference to him, I am going to set things right.

Thank you Dr. Sreelal, for all your hard work and dedication. You have taught me many things. “Let things go, be patient. You must look for calmness in the peak of stress. Life is a journey. Take things slowly. Health is a complex system to maintain.” And, the funniest lesson of all – is the little phrase that you shared with me to constantly remind me what causes ulcers: “hurry, curry, worry.”

The three culprits that start all the trouble in your gut. For me the three things that led to my ulcers.
1) When people are constantly hurrying around, rushing from thing to thing, not living in the present.
2) When people eat curry (or some other spicy food) that eats away at the lining of their stomach.
3) Worrying about things that are out of your control.

These three pitfalls are the source of all my troubles. I need to learn to say goodbye to them once and for all. (I’ll try to chant that to myself every so often so I don’t forget it, but I’m betting it will be harder in Mumbai, than here in a resort on a peaceful lake in Kerala.)

“Unity is strength…When there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” — Mattie J.T. Stepanek

Ayurveda Daily Journal – Day 26


Sandra, my yoga/pranayama instructor on the left. Poornima, the doctor of nutrition (and Dr. Sankar’s wife) on the right.

Feb 28 (Day 26)
Indu left yesterday morning. It was a little sad to see her leave, but I was happy for her to get to go home. She had a granddaughter who was born while she was here — one and a half months early…but healthy! Indu really wanted to get back to be with her family. Besides, Leon and I are meeting Indu and her husband for lunch at the Burj Al Arab in a couple of weeks when we go to Dubai, so I’ll get to see her very soon.

I have a wonderful yoga/pranayama teacher here. Her name is Sandra. She’s tiny and slim, utterly still with a dry sense of humor that lays me out; she makes me laugh at least once a day. Sandra is trying to wean me off of my habit of chronic worry and upset which have fed my ulcers to the point of landing me in the hospital here.

To remedy this, she has pointed out on more than one occasion that I try too hard…even during pranayama  i. I push myself trying to achieve perfection, so instead of allowing the breath to feed me, I end up making myself exhausted and dizzy. Her solution was to “gift” me a mantra to break the spell and allow me to focus on “going easy.” I think it’s perfect…at least for me. So, from now on, “Happy and Chill” is my new mantra. Every time I focus on my breath, I think to myself, “Happy and Chill.” It instantly makes me smile and stop taking life too seriously.  I love Sandra.

The nutritionist here is Dr. Sankar’s wife, Poornima. Translated, her beautiful name means “Full moon.” Every time I see her, I think of her as a full moon…full of light. What a beautiful image to carry around with your name. She doesn’t get as much attention on my blog as her husband has, but she is patient, thorough, loving and has helped me tremendously. I have met with her every day to talk over my reactions to the different foods we have tested for me during my stay. She is trying to help me sort out what will heal my body and what will harm it. We are spending the next four days working through all my questions about what rules are the most critical versus those that are just guidelines.

Yesterday she told me, “Your stomach is like a baby’s stomach. The transition from breast feeding to actual food is a very important time for babies. They can get very sick if things are rushed. You are in the same situation now. We have spent a month eliminating all toxins from your food & purifying your system. Right now, you are in a very delicate place. You must be very careful when you go back not to rush into old habits or you will get very sick. Be careful.” (I’m officially nervous!)

One other thing she said that I thought was incredibly helpful was “DINNER…decides your weight.” What she then went on to explain was that you can have a big breakfast, you can have a big lunch — even a slice of cake in the afternoon once in a while, but you must be VERY careful what you eat for dinner if you want to keep your weight in check.

One last insider tip, never eat dessert after a meal if you can help it. It screws up your digestion. (Who knew?!?) Instead try to eat your fun sweets in the late afternoon between lunch and dinner so that your stomach isn’t playing “war games” as your dinner and dessert fight things out at night.

“Happiness is a journey, not a destination.” — Ben Sweetland

Ayurveda Daily Journal – Day 25


Feb 27 (Day 25):

There was a murder in Kansas the other day. Two Indian men were sitting together after work — just talking to each other, doing nothing to draw attention to themselves, not causing any trouble. In fact, both of these men were known to be very nice, friendly guys. They both had valid work visas. They both had wives. One of them had a baby on the way. These men were just hanging out together at one of their favorite places after a day of work…like all of us have done hundreds of times. But these guys had the audacity to be “brown” in public…One of them was murdered for it, and the other is still in the hospital.

Right before the murderer started shooting these two innocent men he yelled “Get out of my country.”  I’ll say that one more time…Right before this man fired bullet after bullet into the body of  this father to be…into the bodies of these husbands, he yelled, “Get out of my country.”

Now, being from the United States, and having lived in India for the past seven months, I feel uniquely qualified to speak about the Indian people from the point of view of an American.  In my entire life, I have never met a culture so accepting, so welcoming as people from India. They are deferential, compassionate and reverent. They are accepting of all religions, all races. They welcome people from all other cultures and countries. They value contribution and inclusion. In fact, the overriding tenet of their belief system is “Do no harm.”

For someone to murder anyone because of the color of their skin is unforgiveable, unthinkable. For some reason, however, the fact that the targets were people from India hits me especially hard — because I have lived here long enough to see what this culture is all about: love and acceptance.  Since this attack, I have been ashamed to be the lone “American” walking into every room that’s filled with dozens of these loving people. I have felt responsible somehow…guilty by association to a degree I can’t even describe.

I am ashamed that our country has allowed itself to feed on this kind of hateful, racist venom. I will not let this murder stand unrecognized for what it is. Simply put, it is a symptom of the disease that is killing my country…hate.  If each of us doesn’t get busy, and I mean really busy, protecting everyone in our country that is being insulted, demeaned, marginalized or attacked, at some point we’ll have to admit that we are as guilty as the ones doing the shooting.

I believe with all my heart that we are predominantly a country of idealists, of hopeful citizens who still believe in compassion and want to do the right thing. I know the problem seems insurmountable, but whenever I get discouraged I remember the parable about the man showing his son the importance of family. He stood by a pile of sticks, picked them up one by one and snapped them in half easily, with almost no effort. Each time saying, “Do you see how easy it is for me to break each one of these twigs when they’re standing alone?” Then he picked up a large handful of the sticks and tried to break them…but he couldn’t. He turned to his son and said, “THAT is why you always stand together in the face of trouble. On our own we may be weak, we may be vulnerable. But together, we are strong. Together, we are undefeatable.”

Tomorrow, I’ll talk more about my treatments and doctors again, but not today…Not today.

“A fight is going on inside me,” said the old Cherokee to his grandson. “It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “THE ONE YOU FEED.” — Old Cherokee parable

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” — Ryunosuke Satoro

Ayurveda Daily Journal – Day 24


(Jan and me right before he left for the airport. He looks a little intense, but the sun was in our eyes!)

Feb 26 (Day 24):

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you; spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” — Amy Poehler

Jan left yesterday morning. We spent virtually every evening talking together since the day we met. He’s so positive and happy, so interested and engaging — what a remarkable man. I’ve been so blessed on this trip. It’s the best feeling in the world to meet a truly kind, compassionate, fun, interesting person, and then to get to spend hours just getting to know them better — what a gift!

I was fortunate enough on this trip to meet two remarkable men that I think may just be friends for life: Emil and Jan. (Thank you, Lord, for that little miracle.) I did get a bit blue when Jan left, but I know how much he wanted to get back to his gorgeous Italian wife. (I cannot begin to describe my joy whenever I see a good man utterly besotted with his wife.) Indu and I have been spending time together since Jan left, and that has been great…Girl talk is always fun.

I won’t know how much these treatments and medications have really helped my ulcers until I get back home and into a normal rhythm, but when Jan came here the first time over two years ago, he was in agony with gout, and he hasn’t had an attack since. In fact, many of the people who come here end up returning every few years after their first visit because their health is so transformed. I am holding on to that thought and trying not to worry about results. It’s tough to simply  “relax and breathe” when I feel like I have poured so much of myself into this process. But, since my “Aha! Moment” on Day 20, I know I have absolutely no control over the outcome, just the path that I walk…The hero’s journey is in walking it.

They punched me with the bags of mineral powder again and then poured milk on my head for an hour — same song, 46th verse. I have to confess, the only way I’m getting through the treatments now is by counting the days to freedom.

We are down to the home stretch! After today, I have only four more days left before I fly back to Mumbai. The rest of this week will be spent answering questions and fine-tuning what medications, pastes and pills I take home with me.

I will have to be incredibly careful with my diet for the first month. Otherwise, I’m told that I will get very sick. The food here has been very pure so my system has been able to heal. If I jump back into bad habits, I won’t be able to tolerate it. I sure hope I can be a good girl. Right now, all I want is grilled chicken nachos with table-side guacamole, lobster, Bubba’s fried chicken, an Outback cheeseburger with fries, Shawn’s barbecue beef ribs, a steak from Capital Grille, a loaded baked potato, a large coke, a bottle of champagne, chocolate soufflé and a cappuccino…all at the same time.

If you are interested in travel, especially trekking through the Himalayas, click on Jan’s company’s link below. (You can also see an incredible photo of him that was taken back in the 70s when he started his company. He could not look any cooler!) http://www.kamalan.travel/why-kamalan/the-travel-craftsman/

Ayurveda Daily Journal – Day 23


(This is Narayan Nair, the head chef here at Kalari Rasayana. He’s been healing people with his food for over 35 years.)

Feb 25 (Day 23)

“We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” — Adelle Davis

You cannot discuss Ayurveda without talking extensively about the food. The entire Ayurvedic philosophy of healing embraces “food as medicine.” Food is, after all, the easiest and most profound way to alter your health. It can not only nourish your body but poison it. Ayurveda is very focused on only putting into your body what it needs to thrive. Therefore, taste is secondary to the various healing properties of the meal.

Anyone who has read the articles on GracefulParis.com or AGracefulWorld.com, knows how much my husband and I love food. So, please believe me when I tell you that this food here at Kalari Rasayana is outstanding. Every recipe is created and prepared by an excellent chef named Narayanan Nair. Narayanan manages to make beautiful meals despite the fact that Ayurvedic food must be prepared without any salt, sugar, butter, animal protein, yogurt, preservatives, dairy, or spices and very little oil. The chef here at Kalari Rasayana is as utterly devoted to your healing as the doctors are.

Chef Narayanan’s commitment to Ayurveda is deeply personal. He used to be a successful chef on a boat, but then he got sick…very sick from an ulcer. The doctors all told him that he would need surgery to repair it, but Narayan refused. He started doing research to see if there was a natural way to allow his body to heal itself, and he found Ayurveda. He started preparing everything he ate the Ayurvedic way. Miracle of miracles…It worked! As a result, he decided to devote his life to healing others with his Ayurvedic recipes.

There is no refrigerator here at Kalari Rasayana, despite the fact that Chef Narayan prepares hundreds of meals a day. Let me repeat that…NO REFRIGERATOR in a kitchen that feeds everyone at this resort. (I can’t even wrap my brain around that!)

Everything that comes out of the chef’s kitchen is made within about 30 minutes of its being set on your plate. He abhors white sugar and flour almost as much as he does artificial coloring and preservatives. He won’t even prepare oatmeal here as he cannot get the oats to this part of Kerala without preservatives. Trust me when I say that this is a man with a mission.

His soups are without a doubt my favorite part of the meals here. They are all amazing — the perfect start to a dinner. They calm the stomach, soothe the mind and focus your attention on the meal to come. And they are all delicious. Chef Narayan has promised me the recipes, and I am going to start making his soups when I get home: pumpkin, white pumpkin, ash gourd, chick pea, beet root, mixed vegetable, barely, Lemon-lentil, spinach. I have absolutely fallen in love with soups again, and it’s all due to this place — and Chef Narayan Nair.

I did the “punching treatment” again this morning. This afternoon, I had the mud-paste scrub and the one where they pour milk on your head.  The best part about  today’s treatments is that I got to wash my hair within an hour of my treatment, so clean hair for the whole afternoon! Yippee! (The three showers a day thing is getting seriously old though. I’ll be glad when that’s over.)

Dr. Sankar said that from this point on, we are going to try to focus our attention of laying the groundwork for my return to Mumbai. We will need to document what foods I will be allowed to eat when, what foods give me trouble, which medicines I will need to take with me. (Fortunately, they are all covered in the cost of my stay here.) All of these things will be fine-tuned over the remaining five days, and then I’ll be given a goodie bag full of Ayurvedic medicines to take home.

The photo of Chef Narayanan is courtesy of Rosenda Arcioni Meer, the wife of my sweet friend, Jan. (Thank you, Jan!) Rosenda is an accomplished writer. Here is the link to Rosenda’s blog on the Kamalan website too, in case you’d like to read more about travel.  http://www.kamalan.travel/blog/